Last weekend QPR started off our league campaign with a 4-0 victory over Barnsley. Whilst the result was a bit flattering (two of the goals were penalties, and Barnsley were rubbish), it was hard to complain with a start like that. We ended the day top of the league on goal difference.
Fast forward three days and we played Port Vale in the League Cup. Despite them being two levels below us in the league structure, they comprehensively beat us 3-1.
I was more disappointed with the team selection than the ultimate result of this game. We made quite a few changes from Saturday’s team, and although some of them were necessitated by international call-ups, not all of them were.
We gave every impression that we were “concentrating on the league” - ie not taking the cup seriously.
WTF? Hello? We’re QPR. We’re in the Championship. We’re not Barcelona, snowed under by Champion’s League fixtures and World Club Cup malarky! And anyway, it’s the first week of the season!
It seems to me to be pretty poor psychology to pick a weakened team for cup games, especially coming off the back of a good victory. It puts the fans in a negative mood. Let’s face it, football fans are never happier than when in a negative mood (perverse and perhaps even oxymoronic, but true). They love nothing better than having a bit of a whinge.
When we pick a weakened team, they have the perfect excuse, especially if it results in a defeat to opposition who we clearly ought to be beating. We pay our money and turn up on a wet Tuesday, and in return we get to see some players who the manager probably doesn’t rate, or who are too young and inexperienced for the first team at this point. Occasionally they impress, and a new legend is born, but more often than not they display all of the qualities (or rather, all the lack of qualities) that the manager saw in them, and which placed them into the reserves in the first place - and so the fans get on their case.
Knocking the confidence of players who are struggling for form is bad enough, but of course some of the players who played on Tuesday were first team players, some of them playing only their first or second game for their new club, and they got tarnished by a bad performance too.
Before you know it you’ve got a few idiots in the crowd who’ve convinced themselves that someone is rubbish on the basis of one performance in a bad team. That sort of thing rubs off on players, turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. In extreme cases, it can complete bugger up a players career at a club.
So like I said, bad psychology from the manager!
Surely, so early in the season, it’s better to maintain momentum and pick your strongest team. Apart from anything else, they need more pitch time together, and they need that mercurial match fitness that only playing regularly gives them. This has got to be even more true when you’ve got six or seven new players in the team who barely know each other.
And surely we’re not worrying about them playing too many matches at this stage? If they can’t cope with an extra game now, we’re going to be in big trouble in the spring!
I have one theory about all this. Neil Warnock knows that we need some better players, so he deliberately chose a team on Tuesday that would illustrate the weakness of our squad to the board. If true, I’d say that part one of the cunning plan worked - we clearly do need some better players. Whether part two - the buying of said players - will follow, it remains to be seen.
Whether or not this theory is true, I still think that the danger of some of our better players suffering collateral damage as a side effect is real, and wasn’t worth the risk.
Oh, and of course, I’m pissed off that a wasted a couple of hours of my life on a wet Tuesday!